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Let’s talk pancreas!

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Infographic: Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

If you were asked to point to the general area of your pancreas, would you know where it is? No? Well, we are about to answer that once and for all. Said to be shaped like a flat pear, the reason why we don’t really feel its ‘presence’ is because it sits behind the abdomen and the stomach.

The pancreas, which is a gland that is roughly six inches long, is also surrounded by other important organs such as the small intestine, liver, spleen and gallbladder – where they form a symbiotic relationship to ensure the body that houses them work to the best of its abilities.

Why should this matter? Because if your pancreas starts to fail, you will not be able to satisfy your sweet tooth nor can you indulge in your favorite Sunday brunch spread. Yes, the pancreas has everything to do with food digestion.

Its exocrine cells are responsible for producing enzymes that help with digestion. Basically, when you consume food items, these digestive enzymes break the proteins, lipids, carbohydrates, and nucleic acids in them down. Meanwhile, its endocrine cells secrete the hormones insulin and glucagon which are highly-needed to control the body’s blood sugar levels.

Pancreatic health problems

We have discussed other pancreas-related diseases such as pancreatitis and diabetes in a previous article, ‘Panning in on pancreatic problems’ (https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50567867/panning-in-on-pancreatic-problems/). So this time, we are going to discuss in-depth about one of the most fatal diseases that is related to this precious organ – pancreatic cancer.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it caused 156 deaths in Cambodia in 2017. That roughly translates to 1 of every 526 deaths in the Kingdom. To put things in a bigger perspective, the WHO said globally, about 1 people die of pancreatic cancer each day, with an average of 1 death every 57 hours.

While it is not the leading cause of death in Cambodia, it is still important to discuss its effects and what can be done to reduce the risks of getting pancreatic cancer.

Some of the risk factors

1. Age

The risk increases with age. Statistics have shown that most people who develop pancreatic cancer are older than 45. This, however, does not mean that younger adults are immune from the big C.

2. Family history

It is reported that someone with two or more first-degree relatives such as parents, children or siblings, or at least 3 family members overall with pancreatic cancer, is more likely to be at risk for familial pancreatic cancer.

When should I worry?

If you experience the following symptoms in a persistent manner, it would be best to consult medical professionals and undergo specific screenings to rule out health discrepancies:

  1. Jaundice and related symptoms
  2. Stomach and back pain
  3. Nausea and vomiting
  4. Enlarged liver or gallbladder
  5. Blood clots

Combo to ward off pancreatic cancer

While there are no sure-fire ways to avoid developing pancreatic cancer, doctors worldwide have recommended the combo of no smoking-healthy diet-exercise as the best lifestyle choice for our overall well-being.

1. No smoking

Smokers are about twice as likely as non-smokers to get pancreatic cancer, according to WebMD. If you put the cigarette out today, the risk will decrease in a steady manner although it may take between 10 to 15 years before falling to the same risk as non-smokers.

2. Healthy diet

Unfortunately, there is no one specific diet that has been proven to reduce pancreatic cancer risks. However, it is highly advisable to partake in a diet that incorporates abundance of fruits and vegetables with lean meats in moderation.

3. Exercise

A handful of studies have shown that obesity and staying idle are potential risk factors for pancreatic cancer. Adhere to the body mass index (BMI) and sweat it out regularly to bring the risk down to approximately half.

Those interested in measuring their BMIs are encouraged to do so at AIA Wellness Lounge at Aeon Mall Sen Sok where the service is made available for free.

Can we live without our pancreas?

The answer is yes, we can with a few adjustments. Since the pancreas is in charge of controlling blood sugar levels, its absence would trigger diabetes as your body will no longer produce a healthy amount of insulin. This can be solved with taking insulin shots at the right intervals, as suggested by medical professionals. As the pancreas is a dual-functioning organ, you would also need to take an enzyme replacement pill each time you eat. This is to help with food digestion.

Did you know?

Pancreatic diseases know no boundary. Pancreatic cancer, specifically, has claimed the lives of many renowned people. Among them is famed Cambodian photojournalist Dith Pran. While he survived four years of famine under the Khmer Rouge regime, he unfortunately fell victim to pancreatic cancer and succumbed to death in March of 2008, just three months after being diagnosed.

However, there are also those who fought the pancreatic cancer battle hard and emerged victorious such as US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg, who is now 85 and expected to make a cameo in the upcoming Lego movie.

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